8. Western Center on Law and Poverty: Translating grassroots activism into legislative victories will require strong inside/outside partnerships at the local, state and federal levels. One group that has mastered this delicate dance is the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Sacramento, California.
California is the seat of some of the poorest congressional districts in the nation, and it’s also home to more poor Americans than any other state. For over a decade, the state government has been dominated by budget austerity—California was the epicenter of the “no tax” pledge—as well as the kind of budget brinkmanship that now plagues Congress. But in part through the Western Center’s leadership, advocates have moved from simply defending against cuts to articulating a shared vision for a more vibrant, inclusive economy.
The Western Center has spearheaded new alliances among women, immigrants, the working poor, people without homes, the formerly incarcerated, food stamp recipients, labor union members, college students, youth and others, creating new opportunities for low-income people to get involved in effecting change. The result has been a series of notable victories, such as requiring call centers serving Californians who need public assistance to be located in-state in order to create jobs; restoring dental care through Medicaid; enacting protections against excessive bank fines or fees; introducing a Homeless Bill of Rights to outlaw the criminalization of homelessness; and protecting SNAP from federal cuts. The Western Center and its allies have also defended against bad policy proposals like the ALEC-inspired legislation to drug-test public assistance applicants. Follow this group to see how diverse coalitions get results at the state level.